We all want to get along well with other people, and one way to do this is to help people feel good about themselves. If you make a person feel smart and insightful, that person will enjoy your company. The point is not to be manipulative but to help other people feel good about their contributions to a conversation.
Here are some suggestions…
1. Take notes. I’m a compulsive note-taker, and I used to feel self-conscious about pulling out my little notebook and taking notes during a casual conversation. Then I noticed that people really seemed to enjoy it; the fact that I was taking notes made their remarks seem particularly insightful or valuable. Now I don’t hold myself back.
2. Refer to a comment that the person made earlier in the conversation. “This ties to your earlier point about…” This reference shows a person that you’re tracking and remembering their comments very closely. And give people credit for their ideas! The terrific Ramit Sethi gave me the idea for this post. Relatedly…
3. If a person doesn’t finish a thought, ask him or her to pick it up again. “You said there were two reasons, but we didn’t get to the second reason.”
4. Use the person’s name—judiciously. Perhaps it’s the influence of How to Win Friends and Influence People, but some folks seem to think that throwing names around is always a winning move. I think it’s much more complicated than that. Sometimes, when someone uses my name, I feel as though I’m being manipulated or chided or patronized. But in the right context, it can add a very nice note.
5. As people talk about things they’ve done, take note of evidence of their admirable qualities—just in a word or two. “That must have taken a lot of research.” “You showed a lot of initiative in starting that.” When someone mentions a fact from the past, my father-in-law often remarks, “You’ve got a good memory.” It’s surprisingly gratifying.
6. Ask for advice. We all love to give advice and feel smart when someone seeks our counsel. Even better…
7. Take someone’s advice! If you read a book that someone recommends, use a software program that someone suggests, or try a restaurant that someone loves, that person will feel brilliant. In conversation, I’m always making recommendations, such as Inform Fitness gym, where I go for strength-training, and Gary Taubes’s book Why We Get Fat, and I feel enormously pleased when someone follows my suggestions.
What have I left out? What are some other ways to make people feel smart and insightful?
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.
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